Are electronics big-boxes latest Internet victims?

'I'm not surprised Best Buy is closing stores - I'm surprised it took so long.'

First went CompUSA, then Circuit City. Could Best Buy be next? More

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Focus: TECHNOLOGY

Are electronics big-boxes latest Internet victims?

'I'm not surprised Best Buy is closing stores - I'm surprised it took so long.'

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/ANDREW HARRER
SHOPPING CARTS sit in the parking lot outside a Best Buy store in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
Posted 5/7/12

First went CompUSA, then Circuit City. Could Best Buy be next?

The consumer-electronics chain’s decision to close 50 stores across the country this spring, including its Middletown location and two stores in Massachusetts, has triggered questions about whether the era of big-box supremacy is over.

As it culls a portion of its more-expensive large stores, Best Buy is planning this year to open 100 of its smaller “mobile” stores, such as the ones in the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro and the Dartmouth Mall in Dartmouth. By 2016, Best Buy hopes to more than double the number of mobile stores, now 305, to between 600 and 800 nationwide.

The company’s strategy, which will focus more on connections between different products and gadgets, is to “increase points of presence, while decreasing overall square footage,” as it said in a news release announcing its list of condemned locations.

It’s the latest evidence that the “category killer” big-boxes that focused on one type of product and wiped out mom and pops over the last 40 years are now themselves under threat.

“I am not surprised Best Buy is closing stores – I am surprised it took so long,” said Melanie St. Jean, a professor in the marketing department of Johnson & Wales University’s College of Business. “I thought they were going to be closing them sooner and scaling down faster after the recession.”

What’s less clear about the future of electronics sales, and where it may differ from books, home furnishings and other areas where big-box specialists have declined, is which companies will ultimately benefit from the shifting landscape.

The Internet has been credited with killing book, video and music chains, but, as St. Jean pointed out, not many people like to have a $3,000, 64-inch plasma television shipped in the mail, which suggests the changes in electronics aren’t so simple.

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